In the liner notes to his new album, Vijay Iyer explains the word “historicity” as the simple fact of being placed in the stream of history?—?along with everything it may imply. The idea of today's creations drawing from older sources compelled Iyer to title his new trio CD Historicity. In one sense, the idea is quite literal, as more than half of the album consists of interpretations of other composer's material.
Twice voted both #1 Rising Star Jazz Artist and Rising Star Composer in Down Beat Magazine's International Critics' Poll, Iyer has been a compelling voice in modern jazz for more than a decade. Holding a B.S. in Mathematics and Physics from Yale and a Masters in Physics and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Technology and the Arts from UC Berkeley, Iyer is equally steeped in the science as well as the art of music. He's worked with a wide range of contemporary artists, including Steve Coleman, Roscoe Mitchell, Amiri Baraka, Wadada Leo Smith, Oliver Lake, Imani Uzuri, Dafnis Prieto, Karsh Kale, and John Zorn, composed pieces for classical ensembles including the string quartet ETHEL and Imani Winds, and scored film, dance and theater works.
Beyond the explicit revisiting of past influences, Historicity is located at the crossroads of myriad separate histories as they converge at a single point in time?—?histories that are personal, musical, cultural, conceptual, and for the trio, deeply collaborative. Bassist Stephan Crump has played steadily with Iyer for a decade, anchoring the pianist's last four quartet records. Drummer Marcus Gilmore completed the band on the most recent pair of those CDs, having joined the quartet in 2003 as a 16-year-old prodigy.
This CD, then, represents several years of mutual development, unleashed in the freer trio format. But it's informed as well by Iyer's other projects and influences: his longtime collaboration with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, the fourth man on each of those quartet albums; his politically-charged concept albums with poet-performer Mike Ladd; his role in the experimental collective Fieldwork.
It also represents the influence of Iyer's work outside of the jazz realm have influenced his own music. His alliances with the likes of Dead Prez, Karsh Kale, Talvin Singh, DJ Spooky and the electro-soul-rock big band Burnt Sugar come to bear on the trio's versions of British hip-hop artist M.I.A.'s “Galang” and Ronnie Foster's “Mystic Brew”?—?the latter itself an example of enfolded histories, famously sampled in A Tribe Called Quest's “Electric Relaxation.”
Iyer counted the late pianist Andrew Hill as a friend and mentor, and cites Hill's 1963 album Smokestack as one of his favorites. The trio's take on the title tune captures Iyer's wonder at Hill's writing, spelunking into the cavernous composition to discover consistently surprising wonders. Much the same can be said of altoist Julius Hemphill's Dogon A.D., which has not been reduced in stripping away the original's horns and cello; Hemphill's sense of mystery and fractured down-home swagger survive intact.
Witness how the anguish and outrage of Wonder's “Big Brother,” lyrically a lament about politicians ignoring their impoverished constituents, is captured by Iyer's emphatic rumble paired with Crump's groaning arco bass. Or the way that the trio's percussive take brings out the urgency and tension in M.I.A.'s insistently danceable “Galang.”
The one venture into standard repertoire is a radical examination of “Somewhere” from West Side Story, which Iyer wryly describes as “a problematic tale of immigrants in New York City.” The original's seeking plaint is shaken up, the question mark floating free over not only the “place,” but exactly which “us” the song is referencing.
That constant transformative relationship between past and present is, in essence, what Historicity is all about. “It's just a condition of being alive,” Iyer says. “We're always shaped by history, even as we reach into the future.”
The trio will make their Birdland debut June 16-19
Wednesday, June 16 - Saturday, June 19 2010
Vijay Iyer trio @ Birdland
315 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036 (United States) - Map
(212) 581-3080 Sets: 8:30 & 11 PM
we built this city on rock and rolllllll -
- moe is releasing Smash Hits Volume 1 on Fatboy Recs next week. - you get an acoustic version of "Lazarus" just for a mailing list signup
- Neon Trees' "Animal" is now in a new commercial for Camp Vegas - check it out here + an interview w/ the band about the making of the clip
- Autechre is releasing Move of Ten on July 12 (Warp)
- Framing Hanley's "You Stupid Girl" video premiered on MTV today
Become a fan of Sonic Dissonance.com on Facebook
Follow Sonic Dissonance on Twitter